Sunday, December 5, 2010

Massage Therapy, Chapter 5

Edward Cullen’s Little Black Notebook
Saturday, July 17, 2010

The first thing I did when I got home tonight was go up on the roof and have a cigarette.

I know, I know. You hated it when I smoked. I hate it when I smoke. But sometimes that acrid burn in my chest just feels so fucking good. I’m not sure how filling my lungs with smoke seems to clear my head, but there you go. Just one of life’s ugly little ironies.

If any occasion warrants a slip-up, this is it. I feel like I’m going to come out of my skin and I’m not even sure why. Alice is right--I don’t get this way over women. It just doesn’t happen. I can’t figure out why this girl makes me so self-conscious that I can’t even speak to her like a normal human being.

Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly why. She saw me. Really saw me tonight. It’s one thing for me to let it bleed for a group of strangers I’ll never see again, or for my family who loves me unconditionally. But it’s quite another to have a client see me in such a revealing light.

It’s more than that, of course. It’s the way she sees inside me that scares the hell out of me. It feels like she knows me, somehow. Like all my secrets are laid bare when her eyes bore into mine. I think I could tell her about you, and she’d get it. She’d understand. But I don’t want anyone to get close enough to me to be able to do that. I’m not ready. But the hell of it is, if I’m not ready now, when will I ever be ready?

Alice figured out what was up right away, naturally. I have to hand it to her; she restrained herself admirably after Isabella Swan and her friend left our table tonight. I could see her nearly bursting at the seams, waiting to interrogate me about her as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Unsurprisingly, she attacked me with the fervor of a Tasmanian devil the minute Emmett went to the men’s room.

“You like her!” she squealed, eyes shining triumphantly, as if she had discovered the secrets of the Sphinx.

“Of course, I like her. She’s a nice girl,” I answered with feigned indifference.

“Oh, no. You like her-like her,” she said with innuendo-laden relish.

“Alice, you sound like you’re twelve years old.”

“And you’re acting like it, pushing her away and pretending she annoys you. Edward, I haven’t seen you look at a girl that way since…well, ever, now that I think about it,” she declared. Her eyes grew wide with wonder. “My God, it finally happened… you met a woman who found a chink in your armor! I’ve been praying for this day to arrive, and here it is. Thank you, sweet baby Jesus!” She turned her eyes heavenward and pressed her palms together as if in prayer.

“Put down the crack pipe, Alice. You’re hallucinating. And even if you weren’t, do I need to remind you that she’s a client? That makes her off limits.”

“Edward Cullen, do not tell me you’re going to use ethics as an excuse not to pursue the only girl I’ve seen you look at like a human being in years.”

“I’d lose my license if I hooked up with a customer, and you know it. Or do you not give a damn because it’s not a medical license? You sure as hell wouldn’t encourage Emmett to date a patient,” I spat. “And I’m sure that’s why you waited for him to leave the table before you even brought it up--because you know the whole subject is verboten.”

“I know,” she conceded with a pout. Seconds later, her eyes lit up again. “Send her to Kate for treatment! Then you can ask Bella out.”

“Stop, already,” I sighed, refilling my glass from the pitcher. “I don’t want to send her to Katrina. I know I can help her, and it’s better if Emmett and I work as a team.”

“Okay, fine. Heal her first, and then date her,” she grinned.

I gave her an exasperated glare for what seemed like the tenth time this evening. “You do realize that any of those ideas are considered sexual misconduct for a health practitioner, according to Washington state law,” I reminded her.

“Edward, come o-o-on,” she pleaded. “She’s perfect for you, I can tell. You both love music, and clearly neither of you suffer fools gladly. I love her already because she’s the only girl I’ve ever seen who can make you nervous. This is a first! And by the way, you’re kind of a jerk when you’re nervous. But in a sort of cute, growly way. Like a hibernating bear who’s just been poked with a stick. I think you’re in need of a good poking,” she finished slyly.

I considered denying that Isabella Swan had any effect on me, but there really was no point. My sister knows me better than anyone, and even though she was away at school through most of what went down the past few years, she still knows how I think and how I react to things. We have almost a strange telepathy, as if we can zone in on each other’s brain waves. It makes me want to strangle her half the time, yet it’s comforting it its own weird way.

I definitely couldn’t deny that I’d behaved like a complete jackass when I refused to call Isabella Swan by her nickname, but I knew that the minute I did, I’d fall all the way down the rabbit hole. It would be one more step toward familiarity with her that would only encourage me to want more. If I called her the name that the people closest to her did, I would want to be one of those people. I couldn’t allow myself such a luxury. It was a good thing Alice hadn’t caught that part of my conversation with Ms. Swan, or she never would have let me live it down.

“There’s no point in discussing this, Alice. There can’t be anything between us.”

She let out an irritated sigh. “There already is, you ding-dong. Fighting it is only going to cause heartache for you both.”

“You’re definitely jumping the gun here. I barely know the girl,” I reminded her. “And what makes you think she’s interested in me, anyway? She didn’t even try to sit next to me. She looked like she’d rather be anywhere else than at this table.”

“That’s because she was as nervous as you were. You were like a perfect mirror of each other. She couldn’t stop staring at you. Trust me, I am well-acquainted with the symptoms of those who have fallen under the Edward Cullen spell. But what shocks the hell out of me is that this time, it’s mutual. You are finally getting a taste of your own medicine,” she said gleefully. “I really want to go over there and hand that girl a medal. She just proved that you’re a Real Boy, Edward. With a Real Heart and everything!” She jabbed my left pectoral with her index finger a couple of times for emphasis.

“That’s enough,” I growled at her. “If I’ve been wooden the past few years, you know exactly why.”

She relented then. “I know. But it’s been awhile since I’ve seen anyone get to you. You built a pretty big wall around that heart of yours. I just don’t want it to atrophy in there.”

“Don’t worry. It’s beating just fine,” I assured her. Thankfully Emmett returned then, effectively ending our discussion. Even Alice knew that any breach of conduct in his fledgling chiropractic business would not be taken lightly by our brother. He’s easygoing about most things, but when it comes right down to it, he takes his responsibilities as seriously as I do. He’d be the first one brandishing a butcher knife to emasculate me if I ruined our business partnership by not being able to keep my dick in my pants.

He’s never had any reason to worry about it until now. This is the first time I’ve ever been seriously tempted to break the code of ethics that I’ve sworn to uphold. It isn’t just some physical attraction I feel for Isabella. There’s this nagging emotional undercurrent that tugs at my gut whenever she’s around. I couldn’t keep my eyes from wandering to her table the rest of the night, and I kept hearing her words in my head again, defending her job when she knew how I felt about the recording industry. I mean, I have nothing personal against it, or what she does. It’s just not for me. But I could tell that it pained her to have to reveal her profession to me after the callous way I’d dismissed it. She was probably afraid of offending me. It’s true that at first I felt duped, like she had somehow pulled a fast one on me by showing up tonight with a secret agenda. But I quickly realized that she had no way of knowing I would be there, nor that I like to write and perform music as a hobby. It was pure coincidence that brought us together this way. Or kismet, if I’m to believe a born romantic like Alice.

Either way, I like that she stood up for herself. And by the time she was done describing what music means to her, she had me by the heartstrings, and a few other parts as well. She’s as passionate about it as I am. When she insisted that music could save people, I knew she was talking about herself. To say my curiosity was piqued is an understatement. I’m aching to know what she’s been through that made her say that. I wonder if it had something to do with the car accident. Maybe she wasn’t alone in that car. Maybe something else had happened that day that wounded her more deeply than a back injury ever could.

That’s why I can’t shake the idea that she and I could have something together. That we might be able to help each other. That I could confide in her about what happened with you, and she wouldn’t pity me or judge me like everyone else does. Maybe I could find true empathy with this girl.

But not now. And not in the foreseeable future. At this moment, I have to concentrate on just being her therapist and working on her back next Saturday morning. Nothing more, nothing less. No letting my mind wander to other parts of her body that I can’t touch; no blurting personal questions that I have no right to ask. A little small talk, maybe. But that’s it. Right now, it can only be business---the business of making her better. There’s no point in making any other conjectures beyond that.

Satisfied with my mental pep talk, I decided smoking on the roof was not altogether a bad thing. I took my pack of Camel Lights out of my jeans pocket and peered into its opening under the dim moonlight. I was just about to shake the last cigarette out of the pack when I suddenly felt something warm and heavy brush against my pant leg.

“Fucking rats!” I exclaimed in a rather unmanly tenor as I jumped away from the offending critter. But the pair of glowing yellow eyes that peered up at me were far larger than those of a rodent. A plaintive “meow” soon met my ears, pulling a relieved sigh from my smoky lungs.

“Geezus, cat,” I said, reaching down and giving it a quick scratch behind the ears. “You scared me for a minute. You’re not gonna tell anyone what a pussy I am though, right? I’ll leave that title to you.”

The cat blinked its iridescent eyes at me knowingly, as if to tell me my secret was safe with it.

“What are you doing all the way up here on the roof, anyway? You’ll find dinner a lot easier to catch on the ground floor, or in the basement,” I told the feline as it rubbed back and forth along my legs, probably hoping I’d hand it a snack. I was pretty sure the cat would be plenty well fed with the mice and rats that I constantly fight in this place.

I still can’t believe I convinced Mom to let me live in one of her family’s old buildings in the industrial district. I guess she probably would have given in to just about any request I made back then. Once home to a now-defunct textile mill owned by her ancestors, the rustic brick building had been rented to a number of companies over the years but was now empty. She had planned to sell the property, but when I was looking for my own place after starting Massage School, I convinced her to let me convert part of the upper floor into a spacious apartment. I refinished the hardwood floors myself and waxed them until they shone again with their original luster. I tore out the old drywall to reveal beautiful exposed brick walls beneath. Jazz, Emmett and Dad helped on the weekends, and it was the best therapy I could have had at the time. I sometimes miss getting lost in those kinds of physical tasks--the ones that require too much concentration for me to dwell on the past. I suppose I could build some walls to create more separate rooms, but I like the big, open feel of the place the way it is now. Mom always jokes that I could rent it out as a bowling alley if I want to make some extra money. As it is, I feel blessed that I don’t have to pay rent like most guys my age do.

As I stood contemplating having another cigarette, I looked down at the cat massaging a figure eight around my ankles. It appeared to be a large, long-haired orange tabby, from what I could see under the moon’s pale blue rays. It purred as it rubbed its scent on me, as if that would make me warm up to it and give it something a little more gourmet to eat than water rat.

“I hate cats, you know,” I informed the animal. “I’m not falling for that cuddly routine, so you might as well give up.”

It responded by purring more loudly and pushing its nose ruthlessly against my shin.

I sighed, bent down and gave it another half-hearted scratch behind the ears. “You’re relentless, you know that?” The cat looked up at me with a knowing and expectant look. It was confident it would win this battle.

“Not tonight, you won’t,” I mumbled in answer, giving it a pat on the head before heading for the door to the stairwell. I’d had enough intrusions into my life for one day.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How did life get so complicated in just one short week?

It started out benignly enough. Work during the day, rehearsals with Jazz in the evening. We were set to play again last night at Billy’s and wanted to change it up a bit, so we tried to learn a couple of each other’s songs. I didn’t think of Isabella Swan once. Well, it would be more accurate to say that whenever the thought of her popped into my misbehaving brain, I was able to squelch it and replace it quickly with something totally unrelated.

It was working quite well until Thursday night, when Alice called to confirm our plans for the next evening. I told her that Katrina wanted to catch our set, and she was planning to bring Victoria with her. Jazz and I had offered to give the girls a lift, and Emmett had agreed to pick up Alice from the ferry and meet us there. Everything sounded fine until Alice had to go and put a bug in my ear.

“Don’t be surprised if a certain pretty brunette shows up, too,” she said portentously.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, my stomach dropping. I knew instantly what, or rather whom, she was talking about.

“I told Bella Swan that you were playing at Billy’s tomorrow night,” she replied, her voice brimming with giddy triumph.

“So you didn’t leave your cell phone at the table last Saturday night after all,” I surmised as I remembered her excuse for running back inside the bar after we left. “You went back to talk to Isabella, right?”

“Not everything in the world is about you, you know. I want her to check out Jasper. He’s awesome, and unlike you, he’s not allergic to record companies. If his band gets off the ground, it could be very advantageous knowing someone like Bella.”

“That is not why you told her to come,” I countered. “Shit, Alice, when are you going to stop interfering in my life? I seriously can’t wait until you’re back in school.”

“Whatever,” she said dismissively. “You love me, and you secretly love my match-making. I know you want to see her again. This is your chance to redeem yourself with her in a social setting. You’ll be thanking me by this time tomorrow.”

“Unlikely,” I grumbled. Anxiety began gnawing at the pit of my stomach, and I hated that she was right. I did want to see Isabella Swan again, and though I hadn’t allowed myself to acknowledge it, I’d been looking forward to my next session with her all week.

I tried not to give the idea of seeing her again at Billy’s too much thought, but my subconscious was way ahead of me. It conjured her up in the most delectable dream imaginable that night--not at the bar, but in my bed--and I awoke with a raging hard-on to prove it. The dream was so realistic that my lips were still tingling from the sensation of her mouth on mine, my skin hungry for the warmth of hers. I absently reached down and stroked myself, continuing the dream in my still-murky mind. God, what it would feel like to be inside her, her arms and legs wrapped around me, pulling me deeper….

And like some pathetic teenaged boy, I was reaching for the tissue box minutes later when my busy hand brought my erotic fantasy to its natural conclusion. Immediately after that, I mentally cursed my baby sister for setting in motion what could only be a runaway train headed for disaster. How the hell could I impartially treat a patient who was sparking such vivid sexual fantasies in my mind?

I spent the entire day trying to push those kinds of thoughts out of my head and ignore the anticipation building inside me for that evening at Billy’s. I had no idea what I would say to her if I saw her. But I was going to try like hell to at least be more civil toward the girl than I had been the last time. There was no reason why we couldn’t be friends, I reasoned. Emmett seems to have no problem having platonic relationships with women, or any of his patients, for that matter. It’s always come so easily for him, and I’m not sure why. He’s at least as handsome as I, but with an easy affability about him that I could never quite master. I have yet to meet a woman who wanted to be nothing more than my friend, other than Katrina. I know how arrogant and insufferable that sounds, trust me. But I can’t think of a single friendship I’ve had with a woman that didn’t deteriorate into mixed signals, misunderstandings and hurt feelings one way or another.

The night at the brew pub went well, and the six of us had a good time. My set with Jasper was decent, even though I messed up the lyrics a bit on one of his songs that I don’t know quite well enough yet. Still, I couldn’t help but be disappointed that Isabella didn’t show. I tried not to look at the front door every time it opened and shut, but it was a losing battle. I felt completely keyed up, exactly like I had last weekend when I saw her face in the crowd. And I could have sworn I felt her eyes on me while I was singing, like drops of chocolate melting on my skin; but when I scanned the tables this time, I saw no one familiar.

Shortly after our set, I was almost positive I saw the swing of her long chestnut hair as the bar door closed behind someone who was just leaving. The unnerving tremor that shot down my back at the sight of it seemed proof of her presence. But would she really have avoided talking to me if she had been here tonight? The thought perturbed me more than it should have. I would have to make sure that I made her feel more comfortable at our appointment tomorrow than I had the last time I’d seen her. I was reminded that my attraction to her was a paltry annoyance in light of her medical issues. She needed me to be her therapist, not some drooling lecher.

I felt remarkably calm and focused this morning when the alarm went off early. I was glad I had two appointments before hers; both fairly new clients with issues that forced me to concentrate fully on the task at hand. I had no time to be distracted or apprehensive about seeing her. I was quite Zen about my third and final appointment by the time I’d finished up the paperwork for the second.

All of that went completely out the window the minute I went to the reception area to escort my second client out. There sat Isabella, text-messaging on her phone, a curtain of hair partially obscuring her face. She looked up when she heard my footsteps, the silky curtain falling away; and I tripped and fell right into the well of her dark eyes. Figuratively, of course. But it was unsettling how she seemed to swallow me whole with one glance. I was beginning to wish that Jessica worked on Saturdays so that she could run interference for me.

Isabella smiled somewhat timidly at me, and I realized that Alice was right--the girl was as nervous around me as I was her. Somehow that knowledge was all I needed to relax a little and give her a smile in return.

I’ll be right with you, Miss Swan,” I told her. “I just need to prepare the room.” I hated how insufferably formal I sounded. Why couldn’t I say her nickname? I couldn’t even think it to myself. It felt like the only plug in a dam that was ready to crumble with the slightest breach.

“That’s fine,” she answered quickly, her anxious expression easing. I reminded myself that there was no reason for us to be so uptight around each other. The tension would only be detrimental to her treatment. It was my job to make sure she felt at ease around me. How I felt was immaterial.

After I retreated to fit the massage table with clean bedding, I went back to the reception area and put my gentlest smile to work on Ms. Swan.

“How are you feeling today?” I asked her. “Have you had any problems this past week?”

“No, not really,” she replied, putting her phone away and rising from her chair. “I do feel a little stiff and achy in spots, I guess. It kind of feels like my back wants to go back to the way it was before you and Emmett worked on me.”

“Unfortunately, that’s probably exactly what’s happening,” I said, motioning for her to lead the way down the hall to the massage room. I scrutinized her gait as she walked ahead of me, and I could see that her hips were still out of alignment.

I continued, “That’s why I’ll need to see you regularly for awhile. Emmett can manipulate your bones easily enough, but your muscles will take longer to adjust. That’s where I come in.”

She stopped and turned to look up at me expectantly after entering the massage room. I tried not to dwell on how pretty she looked, bare-faced and unpretentious in her casual t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops.

“When’s your next appointment with Emmett?” I questioned her, forcing my mind to stay on track.

“The middle of next week,” she replied. She gave me a quizzical look, a tiny line forming between her dainty brows.

“That’s good,” I told her. “I’m going to check my appointment book to see if I can fit you in right before or after, if that will work with your schedule.”

“Sure,” she agreed with a nod. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” I answered smoothly, not wanting to alarm her. “I just think you shouldn’t wait too long for your next adjustment, that’s all.”

“Why?” she demanded, the crease in her forehead deepening.

“Well, your hips are still a little ‘off,’” I explained, taking a tentative step closer. I took a deep breath and placed my hands below her tiny waist, gingerly pressing with my thumbs until I found the edges of her hipbones through her jeans. I thought I heard a small gasp escape her lips, which I tried desperately not to acknowledge.

“Your right hip is a little too high, while the left is turned forward a bit,” I continued. I pressed carefully where the problem areas were, trying to show her what I was talking about. “I suspect your leg length is off, and possibly your tailbone is tilted. This explains a lot of the muscle twists that I felt in your back last week. All your soft tissues are compensating for the misalignment. That’s why I want to work with Emmett as a team to try to get you straightened out. Literally,” I added with a soft chuckle, reluctantly releasing her from my grip.

She let out an unconvincing laugh, but her brow refused to unfurl. “Wow, it’s a miracle I’m still walking around upright,” she mumbled as her eyes drifted dejectedly to the floor. A lock of hair fell over her face, and I fought the urge to reach out and tuck it behind her ear.

“The body has amazing ways of compensating to keep you going,” I told her. “But it also has an amazing power to heal itself. Don’t worry, Isabella… we’re going to get you back in fighting form, I promise. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.”

She smiled and nodded, but still looked unconvinced. Then and there, I made it my personal mission to take away her doubt and erase the worry from her lovely face.

“Are you ready to get started?” I asked. She bit her lip as she nodded again. I watched the pink deepen in her lower lip as she finally released it, and I wondered idly how it would taste.

Fucking hell.

I cleared my throat and glanced at the chair, the wall, the fresh flannel sheet draped over the massage table--anything but her.

“I’ll leave you to get ready. I want you to lie on your back this time so you don’t get queasy. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I said hurriedly before leaving the room. No way in hell was I going to tell her to undress and leave her shirt and jeans on the chair, or give her the option of leaving on her bra. None of the things I usually said to clients seemed benign anymore. Any mention of her disrobing so that I could touch her had taken on a lurid undertone in my mind, tainted by my own desires that were stirring from the depths of my soul like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I wanted her. The fact was impossible to deny any longer. I tried to come to grips with the inescapable truth as I washed my hands thoroughly in the bathroom, my fingers flexing in anticipation of caressing her smooth skin for the next hour. So you’re attracted to her…so what? I argued with myself. You can still do your job and leave her none the wiser.

I really didn’t have any choice. It wasn’t like the girl could read my mind, anyway. I could keep my thoughts to myself and still be an effective therapist. I took a deep breath and went back to the massage room, rapping gently on the door.

“Come in,” came the muffled reply. I entered the door and closed it softly behind me, looking warily over to the table. She lay looking up at me with those big, dark eyes, the sheet pulled up to her neck, her bare arms clasped atop the flannel over her stomach. I swallowed hard and stealthily approached the table, as if she were a fawn that I might scare away with any sudden sound or movement.

Her eyes didn’t leave mine until I made my way to the back of the table and stood behind her. “I’m going to begin with your neck and shoulders. We’ll see how Emmett’s adjustments are holding.”

“Okay,” she agreed, closing her eyes. I wound my fingers through the silk of her hair, stretching them along the base of her skull in examination. Her neck was out again already. I held my tongue and worked on the muscles surrounding the misaligned bones instead, willing them to relax and unwind. I felt my own body following suit, for I was now in my element.

I soon got lost in the work, as I always do. The apprehension and confusion of the past week disappeared. There was only her flesh and mine now; her body’s will dissolving under that of my insistent fingers. It may be hard to believe, but in that moment, there was nothing sexual about what I was doing to her. It was the most sensual experience in the world, but in the most compassionate, healing sense of the word. I felt her yielding to me more thoroughly with every touch, and yet I was the one who felt powerless. Her body was the guide; I simply followed and straightened the path of her twisted muscles as I went.

We barely spoke. When I slid my hands under her right shoulder blade, she tried to move her arm out of the way; I murmured for her not to worry, that I would do all the work. She relaxed and let my fingers probe along her spine and ribs, and I noted to myself that Emmett would have to do more work here as well. I slowly stretched and pulled her contracted flesh, working from her spine outward. I then repeated the procedure on her left side, and it responded more readily to the suggestion of my hands. Her muscles were still somewhat resistant to the therapy, and I knew it would take a few more sessions until her body got used to being “told” what to do. It would help immensely when her bones began to stay in alignment better, too.

I realized that I hadn’t reset the sound machine, and I wondered if music would help Isabella loosen up a bit.

“Would you rather listen to something else than the ocean sounds?” I asked her softly, taking a short break and allowing my gaze to rest on her adorable freckled nose a moment. Then her eyes opened and arrested my attention completely.

“No, it’s fine. I like the beach. It’s relaxing,” she assured me.

“I know the sound machine is a little hokey, but it works,” I shrugged with a half-grin. “I can switch to music though, if you’d like.”

She shook her head. “I’m good, really. Is there something wrong? Am I not responding the right way?” The wrinkle took up residence between her eyebrows again.

“No, you’re improving, honestly. I don’t want you worry about that. I want you to relax completely, if possible. Imagine a place or a time that always made you feel happy, and concentrate on that,” I suggested. “I’m going to try to work on your lower back just a little, so be sure to tell me if anything feels uncomfortable. If you feel the slightest pinch or twinge, tell me immediately, okay?”

“I will,” she promised. I tore my eyes away from hers and moved to her right side again, sliding my hands under the middle of her back and beginning the slow push and pull to unravel her twists. I could feel her eyes on me, and I was surprised that she hadn’t closed them.

“Edward?” she began. “I just want you to know that whatever you’re doing feels like it’s working. It feels…amazing.”

That moment of hesitation as she searched for the right word nearly did me in. The sexual charge that crackled through me was the first time during the session that I had lost focus and blurred the line between the sensual and the sexual. Because in that split second, I realized that as much as I wanted to make her feel healed and whole again, more than that I wanted to make her feel complete euphoria, delirium, ecstasy. “Amazing” didn’t begin to cover what I wanted her to feel at my hands.

I replied simply, “I’m glad,” then quickly pursed my lips together before anything incriminating could pop out. I avoided her gaze and concentrated on what I was doing. At last she closed her lids and gave me some peace. Her body began to relax more and more as I worked, and I wondered if she was concentrating on something that brought her joy, like I told her to. Whatever she was thinking about, it was working.

I was very careful not to massage her lower back too deeply, because frankly, Emmett needs to do a lot more work there first. I was so absorbed in trying to unwind the knots I found there that I didn’t notice her wince.

“Edward,” she finally whispered. “I feel kind of a weird…pulling across my tailbone.”

“That’s my cue to stop, then,” I announced. I quit immediately and pulled my hands out from under her hips, accidentally brushing the edge of her panties as I did so. Lace. That was a little surprising. She seemed like a cotton boy-shorts kind of girl. I really, really didn’t need to imagine what her panties looked like, though of course the picture appeared in my head instantaneously. Every new detail I learned about her startled and confounded me, and I hated how appealing that was.

“You did very well today. I think we made a lot of progress. Your muscles became more and more responsive, which is a very good thing. Did you go to your ‘happy place’ like I suggested?” I asked with a short laugh.

She smiled a little, but her eyes were serious as she regarded me. “I did,” she said quietly. Something in her gaze made me hope that her ‘happy place’ had something to do with me. Then I mentally chided myself for such stupid wishful thinking and self-consciously raked my fingers through my hair.

“Do you feel better this time than the last? You’re not sick, are you?”

“No, I feel fine,” she insisted, though she had told me that last week, too.

“Do you need my help getting up?” I asked again, just to be sure.

“No, I’m good. Honestly,” she added, obviously seeing the uncertainty on my face.

“Okay. Just holler if you need me. You can come out to the reception desk whenever you’re ready.”

I picked up her files and left the massage room, closing the door gently behind me. I let out a ragged sigh of relief, again wondering why it was such an ordeal to treat this girl. On the one hand, the myofascial work itself was engrossing, and her issues were complicated. I usually welcomed a challenge like that. But so many feelings other than the urge to heal were fighting within me that I felt drained when our hour was up.

I was standing at the reception counter, making notes in her file when I heard her approach. She stopped across the counter from me and asked, “What do I owe you for today?”

I blinked at her for a moment, and was tempted to tell her it was on the house. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s see if your insurance will cover it first, okay?”

“I don’t think it will, but thanks,” she said, looking a little relieved. Then her brows knitted again and she stared at the countertop for a moment before raising her anxious eyes to mine. Her next words poured out in a rush.

“Edward, about last weekend at Billy’s… I just want you to know that I wasn’t trying to railroad you or anything. I had no idea that you were a musician, and I would never dream of trying to convince you to record your music. I completely understand where you’re coming from, feeling like you’d be selling out or giving up something that’s personal and special to you. I totally respect that. I just hope you don’t hold it against me.” She let out a long breath when she was done, and her shoulders slumped as if she had just dropped a giant weight from them.

I was stunned for a second, mouth agape. I couldn’t believe she had been so worried about something I’d barely given a second thought.

“Of course I don’t,” I answered quickly. “I mean, I admit that at first it seemed a little suspect, but I realized right away that you had no way of knowing that I would be there singing that night. I’m just sorry if I sounded like I don’t approve of your job. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you saw my music collection or my iPod, you’d know just how much I appreciate what you do.”

She appeared to be relieved, and I felt that way myself. “That’s good,” she said. “ I was afraid that you thought I orchestrated the whole evening or something. It really was just a coincidence, seeing you there. But…,” she paused to bite her lip, “I’m glad I did. You were great.”

I can’t adequately describe the sensation that spread through my chest at those three little words, spoken in her quiet alto, her soft brown eyes gazing up at mine. Somehow her compliment carried more weight now, alone together in this silent office, than it did last week in the noisy bar.

“Thank you,” I answered softly, my voice sounding thick. I cleared my throat, adjusted my reading glasses and decided to stick a toe out over the ledge. “I thought maybe I’d see you there again last night.”

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open a little as she inhaled sharply. I could see that she was unsure how to respond. I couldn’t stand even the tiny bit of panic in her eyes, so I let her off the hook.

“Alice mentioned that she told you Jasper and I would be there,” I explained at last. “I think she wanted you to hear him play. She’s got a little crush on him and wants to help him out.”

“Oh, right,” she said with a short laugh. “I, uh… actually, I was there, but I couldn’t stay long. I had another commitment.”

“Oh,” I replied, wondering if that last part was really true. “I didn’t see you. You should have come over and said ‘hi.’”

“Well, you looked pretty busy. I didn’t want to intrude.” She suddenly looked terribly unsure of herself.

I shook my head, bewildered. “You wouldn’t have been intruding. It was just Emmett, Alice and some friends of mine.” I paused until her eyes met mine again. “Isabella, I don’t ever want you to feel like you can’t talk to me.”

I hated the doubt that still lingered on her face, so I took one last, unwise stab at making her believe that I was sincere. “I liked what you said about how music can save people. I believe that completely. Maybe that’s something that you and I have in common.”

There it was--that quiet desperation in her eyes; the haunted look I had recognized the first time I looked into their depths. “Well, it definitely saved me. Still does, every day, one way or another,” she admitted.

Finally, the opening I’d been hoping for. “I want to ask you about something, but you don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to.”

She looked more curious than alarmed. “Shoot,” she said simply.

I took a deep breath and tried to choose my words carefully. “Your medical records show that you got your injuries in a car accident when you were a teenager. I'm just wondering...did something else happen that day? Something that left…an emotional scar?”

The alarm came then, her eyes widening and her body stiffening. My arrow had hit the mark, and I winced at her pain. Then, suddenly, her face went blank, as if she had just shut the door on whatever memory I had evoked. Her defense mechanisms were just as effective as mine. The realization only served to make me hungry for answers, and more determined to get to the truth about her. I had the feeling it was the key to unlocking and unraveling the pain that held her twisted flesh captive.

She appeared as if she were searching for a reply when the sound of the front door opening behind her caught her attention. I looked up to see Katrina, long and lean in her tennis dress, probably coming to see what was holding me up. A glance at the clock told me I was fifteen minutes late meeting her at the coffee shop around the corner, where we had planned to grab a light lunch before our Saturday match.

“Hey, Edward!” she said brightly, flashing a toothy smile. Her eyes took in my frustrated expression, then shifted to Isabella’s pained one, and her smile faded. “Sorry if I interrupted something. I just thought I’d see if you were running late. I can wait outside.”

I sighed and said, “No, it’s fine. Ms. Swan and I were just finishing up here.” We all exchanged awkward looks, so I filled the silence with introductions. “Isabella, this is a good friend of mine, Katrina Denali. Katrina, this is my newest client, Isabella Swan.”

“Hi,” Katrina said warmly, stepping closer and holding her hand out to Isabella’s. “Nice to meet you. You can call me Kate.”

“Of course,” my client responded, giving me a short but pointed glance as she shook Kate’s hand. “You can call me Bella.”

Katrina caught her meaning and let out a hearty laugh. “I think Edward is allergic to nicknames. Emmett must have called him ‘Eddie’ one too many times as a kid.”

I gave her a withering smile and grabbed my brother’s appointment book to see when he had Isabella scheduled, then compared it to mine. I was booked and wouldn’t be able to treat her that day. As I looked through my schedule, I realized next Saturday would be the soonest I could see Miss Swan again unless I had a cancellation.

“I won’t be able to schedule your appointment until a week from today. Will that work for you?” I asked her.

“Sure, that’s fine,” she replied in a subdued voice, avoiding my gaze. I must have gone too far, asking her what had happened to her. She looked like she couldn’t wait to leave.

I filled out the appointment reminder card and handed it to her. She quickly stuck it in her back pocket, mumbled “Thanks,” and zoomed around Katrina like the card had caught her pants on fire. The door was still swinging shut as my “See you next week” trailed off behind her.

Kate let out a low whistle. “What was that all about?” she inquired, leaning over the counter on her elbows.

“Nothing. I’m just trying to get to the root of her problems, that’s all,” I said as I put the appointment books away.

“Edward, you aren’t disobeying our Golden Rule, are you?” she asked in a warning tone. “No personal questions, right?”

“I just think that if she could talk about the car accident that made her end up this way, I could make a lot more progress with her,” I insisted.

She scrutinized my face a moment. “Are you trying to convince me of that, or yourself?”

“Neither. I know half of her problems stem from emotional pain as well as physical,” I said matter-of-factly as I fished my keys out of my pocket.

“You know that, huh? For a fact?” she asked skeptically as I escorted her out the door and locked it behind us.

“I can just tell,” I shrugged. “I can feel it in her body. I can see it in her eyes. Don’t you ever trust your intuition with your customers?”

“Sure, to a point,” she replied as we headed down the street. “But I think you’re asking for trouble if you’re making those kinds of assumptions about someone you’re treating. Especially if you’re starting to care a little too much about her…?”

I ignored her curiosity as we turned the corner and reached the entrance of the café. I opened the door for her and followed her in, then pretended to be consumed with studying the menu on the blackboard over the counter even though I knew it by heart.

“Edward, please tell me you aren’t going there with that girl,” Kate said reproachfully. She then turned to the barista and ordered a vegan sandwich and iced tea, allowing me to once again dodge her queries. But, much like Alice, I knew she wouldn’t let it go. I ordered a Panini and a plain black coffee to clear my head, and we sat at a nearby table to wait for our food. Kate started in on me immediately.

“I saw the way you were looking at her. I almost didn’t recognize you--you’re such a cool customer most of the time. I’ve never seen you so…un-cool,” she teased. “Maybe even a little hot and bothered. That’s a new one,” she grinned.

“God, not you too,” I muttered under my breath, taking a sip of my coffee.

“Excuse me?”

“You and my sister both. You seem to have some weird delusions about my feelings for Isabella Swan. She has some serious physical issues, and I want to help her. It’s as simple as that.”

“So Alice saw it, too. That little preoccupied gleam in your eyes. You’re invested in her. You don’t do that with people very often. Can’t say I blame you,” she sighed.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything stupid,” I told her, and this time, I was trying to convince myself as well as her. “I wouldn’t do that to Emmett, for one thing. And for another, I worked hard to get my shit together. I’m not about to blow it by getting involved with a client.”

Katrina studied me for a moment, idly stirring her straw in her tea glass. “It’s too bad that’s how you met. It’s nice to see you actually interested in a girl, even if you keep telling yourself it’s only professional.”

I gave her an annoyed look, which only made her grin. “Well, hopefully, she won’t be your client forever, right? And if you want, you can always refer her to me. I’d be happy to help her, and help you in the process.”

Kate was sincere in her offer, and in her wish to help me. I know that much is true. But some perversely selfish part of me wants to be the one to help Isabella Swan. Is it so wrong to want to be someone’s savior instead of destroyer?

I thanked Katrina for the offer but assured her I had things under control. I then less-than-subtly changed the subject and asked her how her job was going. She works for a spa that specializes primarily in relaxation massage methods, but she still does some more intensive therapy work like I do. She said business is pretty good, but still suffering a bit from the slow economy. When times are tough, only the elite few can afford to pamper themselves.

I must admit that I feel a little guilty about having been one of those few my entire life. My parents aren’t swimming in cash, but they certainly aren’t hurting, either. Mom comes from “old money,” by Pacific Northwest standards, anyway. The Platts built their fortune from the logging industry in the mid-1800s, as many immigrants to the west did back in the day. Her ancestors later turned to timber milling, and even branched out into textiles and a few other sundry goods as the area boomed. Most of the family business was eventually sold off, and my grandparents, and now my mom Esme, have managed to make a tidy income off of some wise investments, most recently in technology.

Dad’s no slouch, either, though he comes from much more humble middle-class beginnings. He always jokes that if he hadn’t become a doctor, Mom’s family never would have allowed him to marry their daughter. That’s patently untrue. Carlisle Cullen is the type man who always knows the right thing to say or do, in any given situation. He could charm the habit off of a nun, if he had the mind to, which of course he never would. I often tell him he should go into politics, except that he’s too honest.

But it’s Mom’s connections that get me membership at the Seattle Tennis Club. Usually a place filled with yuppie douchebags is the last place you’ll ever find me; but the tennis courts and amenities are so awesome that I can never pass up the chance to use them. Katrina loves it. I usually have a hard time dragging her out of the hot tubs after our match.

Today was no exception, but I was kind of enjoying relaxing by the pool myself. The only problem was that I started imagining what it would be like if I brought Isabella here. We could hang out on the beach and maybe go boating. I wondered if she’d like that. I wondered what she’d look like in a bikini. Then I got irritated with myself and once again made Kate leave before she was ready.

“Damn it, Edward, when are you ever going to learn to relax?” she grumped as she threw on her cover-up and collected her duffel bag. “If I had membership here, I’d never leave. You keep telling me how great the food is, but we never stay long enough to have dinner.”

“Sorry, I have some errands I need to run,” I told her. “Besides, I have to keep testing you to see if you’re only friends with me because I can get you in here. Maybe next week we should use some municipal courts instead, just to keep things interesting.”

She laughed and answered, “That’s fine by me. You know I don’t really give a shit about this kind of stuff. But the tennis club perks do sweeten the deal a little. Especially when you’re in one of your moods.”

I ignored that last remark, because she’s put up with a lot of crap from me over the past couple of years. She’s the only one who knows the ugly details of what happened between you and me. I had to tell someone, and I didn’t want to burden my family with that. So Kate has put up with a lot, to put it mildly.

I drove her back to our medical complex to get her car, then stopped at the market for some groceries on the way home. I’m a completely crappy cook, but I hate living on fast-food and take-out, so I make the attempt every now and then.

I can only blame armfuls of groceries for the fact that I didn’t see the cat run in the front door of my building when I unlocked it. I also managed to miss it following me to the service elevator. Only when I felt its thick tail brush up against my shin as the elevator’s noisy gears carried us upward did I realize there was another living thing besides me in the confined space.

I let out another rather unmanly sound until I realized that I was not trapped with some giant rat as I feared. The cat was already too busy trying to poke its nose in my grocery bags to acknowledge my high-pitched curse.

“Yeah, I’ll bet you smell something good in there,” I grunted at it. “If you think I’m giving you any of that fresh salmon, you’ve got another thing coming.”

The cat meowed plaintively, clearly not happy with my mandate.

“I’m not letting you in my place, either. You’re probably infested with fleas.”

Sad, round, yellow eyes peered up at me before the nose-rubbing on my leg commenced.

“Geezus H….” I muttered as the elevator opened directly in front of my door. There was basically no place for the animal to go unless I escorted it back down on the elevator or threw it out the window onto the fire escape. I sighed as I unlocked the door, knowing that the cat would race inside before I could possibly stop it. It investigated every corner of the loft with the thoroughness of a health inspector while I put away the groceries. Apparently satisfied that nothing was beneath its standards, it approached me with a loud yowl that I was pretty sure had something to do with the fish.

What I did next might surprise you. Or maybe not. I’m never sure how well you knew me. I grilled the salmon with some lemon, garlic and black pepper like I always do. But I threw a bit of it to the cat before I did. I know it will never leave now. I knew it the minute I did it.

“I think I should call you Isabella,” I told it, giving it a grudging scratch or two behind the ears as it begged at the table. “I didn’t want you or need you in my life. But here you are. Now what do I do with you?” I mused softly as the cat purred contentedly.

“Before I name you, I’d better check something,” I told it, grabbing its tail and taking a quick look underneath. The furry evidence of his manhood was still intact. “I guess ‘Isabella’ is out, then. I don’t think she would have appreciated that anyway.”

I tossed a tiny piece of the fish down to him, which he gobbled greedily off the glossy floor. “I should have figured you for a tomcat, anyway, as big as you are,” I said idly. “You’re lucky I haven’t thrown you outside yet. Get ready for it, because you are not spending the night in here. At least not until I’m satisfied you’re not crawling with lice or something.”

He looked up at me with ravenous eyes, as if the bits of fish I’d already given him were simply a tease. I threw him another morsel and admonished, “This is the last one. After that it’s canned tuna fish. And that’s only until I can get back to the store and get you some cat food.”

He seemed satisfied with that, as he commenced with the leg-rubbing again. He certainly was an affectionate cat. Or maybe just a desperately lonely one.

“I guess I could call you Tom,” I told him with a laugh. “Tom Cat. That’s fairly unoriginal, though, isn’t it?” I thought for a moment, and then realized I’d already named him.

“Lucky,” I said, “welcome to your new home. As long as you keep the vermin out, we might be able to work out an arrangement.”

He looked up at me through narrowed slits, his expression one of superlative wisdom. Or possibly that of the cat who just swallowed the canary, I’m not sure which.

“I know, I’m a sucker,” I sighed, allowing another ear scratch to turn into a long stroke down his back and along his thick, bushy tail. “But who knows? Maybe I’ll turn out to be the lucky one this time.”

Lucky purred and gave me another slit-eyed, shrewd gaze. We both knew I wasn’t talking about him.


  1. Nice chapter, Leann! :) I squealed when I saw you had posted a new chapter, I love your writing so much. Thanks for this wonderful fic! Are you going to update before Christmas or are you too busy? Sorry for asking, but I'm totally hooked on this story... :)

  2. Thank you so much! Glad you like! I'm still really unsure of this story; it's so different from the last. But I'm having fun writing it, even if it is taking me longer. I doubt I'll have an update before Christmas because this is a hectic time for me at work, but hopefully by the new year, I will. :) (I am still wondering who you are...prob. a good Twitter friend! :D )

  3. Thanks for replying me! :) I'm not on Twitter, so I don't think I've talked to you before, I just somehow found your site and started reading your fics. I totally understand you won't have time to write before Christmas, I know I won't have a lot of free time during the next three weeks... BTW, my name is Maria. :)

  4. Wow, I'm surprised you found my site, but I'm glad you like my stories! The first is on FFnet and Twilighted, but I haven't posted this new one yet. I want to get a little more written first. Nice to "meet" you, Maria, and thanks again for reading and leaving me comments! :)

  5. Ahhhh! This chapter is even more addictive than the last. After the first 2 paragraphs, you actually had ME wanting a cigarette, and I don’t even smoke LOL!! This is delightfully witty and sexy, without [SPOILER ALERT] any actual lemons yet. I so love Edward’s POV; he’s almost comically conflicted, and irresistible. THANK YOU!

  6. Well, you know I don't smoke either. I'm allergic to it in fact! So writing that stuff is quite a stretch for me. ;) I love writing EPOV, as you know. "Comically confliced"...hee! Yes, he is good at torturing himself about things, especially things he can't control but thinks he should. So glad you like it! Your opinion means a lot to me. :)